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Almost before the gunsmoke from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre cleared, Chicago police had a suspect: Jack McGurn. They just couldn’t find him. McGurn, whose real name was Vincent Gebardi, was Al Capone’s chief assassin, a baby-faced Sicilian immigrant and professional killer of professional killers. But two weeks after the murders, police found McGurn and his paramour, Louise May Rolfe, holed up downtown at the Stevens Hotel. Both claimed they were in bed on the morning of the famous shootings, a titillating ...
Almost before the gunsmoke from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre cleared, Chicago police had a suspect: Jack McGurn. They just couldn’t find him. McGurn, whose real name was Vincent Gebardi, was Al Capone’s chief assassin, a baby-faced Sicilian immigrant and professional killer of professional killers. But two weeks after the murders, police found McGurn and his paramour, Louise May Rolfe, holed up downtown at the Stevens Hotel. Both claimed they were in bed on the morning of the famous shootings, a titillating alibi that grabbed the public’s attention and never let go.
Deadly Valentines tells one of the most outrageous stories of the 1920s, a twin biography of a couple who defined the extremes and excesses of the Prohibition era in America. McGurn was a prizefighter, professional-level golfer, and the ultimate urban predator and hit man who put the iron in Al Capone’s muscle. Rolfe, a beautiful blonde dancer and libertine, was the epitome of fashion, rebellion, and wild abandon in the new jazz subculture. They were the prototypes for decades of gangster literature and cinema, representing a time that has never lost its allure.
Valentine's Day, 1929
Like most participants in the sideshow of the ages, police sergeant Thomas J. Loftus, star number seventy, hasn't a clue that he is poised on the brink of history. In the morning, he pulls his Arctics on over his shoes and buttons his shin-length blue wool coat against the fourteen-degree Chicago air. This day will see no sun and will only get four degrees warmer. As he leaves his apartment at 2737 Carmen Avenue to work the day shift, he is concerned only with buying some Valentine's candy for his wife and daughter.
Sergeant Loftus, born in Chicago, is a veteran cop at fifty-four, his ginger hair rapidly receding, making him thankful for his hat on such a morning. The city is misty, dotted with clouds of steam that come from the thousands of smokestacks, sidewalk vents, and manhole spouts. By the time he arrives at the Thirty-Sixth District station house at 1501 North Hudson Avenue, it is fifteen degrees, and the air is filled with a light and picturesque snow, a Valentine's gift from Lake Michigan.
So far, it is a quiet Thursday morning. Loftus begins jawing with a local neighborhood cop fan, an eighteen-year-old named Billy Rudd, who occasionally stops by for coffee. At 10:45, as he and Billy drink the strong station-house java and watch the street through frost-coated glass windows, Desk Sergeant Harrity answers a phone call from a nearly hysterical woman identifying herself as Mrs. Landesman. Loftus catches part of Harrity's side of the conversation as the sergeant tries to calm the woman on the other end of the wire. Harrity finally hangs up and turns to Loftus, explaining that there's a screaming Mimi over on Clark Street who says there's lots of gunfire at 2122 North.
Loftus is the only cop in the station; everybody else is out on patrol. Both Model A squad flivvers are gone, and Billy Rudd doesn't drive. A telephone-company electrician is working on the alarm switch box near the front desk. Loftus buttonholes him and asks him for a ride. Wanting to get in on the excitement, the electrician succumbs to human nature and nods his head. He'll gladly drive Loftus wherever he wants to go. Billy Rudd asks to come along, and the three of them bundle up and hurry out the front.
At that moment, one of the squads pulls up. Loftus runs over, yanks open the passenger door, and sticks his head in, informing the two officers inside that they should follow him to Clark Street. As with every call, it could be something or it could be nothing. Loftus slams the door and jumps into the passenger seat of the telephone truck, with Billy Rudd climbing in behind him.
Thrilled to be doing anything other than his job, the electrician, whose name is Charlie Corrigan, throws the Ford into gear. He plays policeman all the way, speeding around streetcars on the icy pavement. When they pull up in front of the Clark Street address, Loftus jumps out and spots a frantic woman in the open window of the second-floor apartment, which is situated over a tailor's shop. She is yelling and pointing down at the painted window that says SMC CARTAGE.
A small crowd is beginning to gather as Loftus opens the door, which is swollen from the harsh winter and proves resistant. He unholsters his service revolver. The other two officers haven't shown up in their patrol car yet, so Loftus enters with Billy Rudd following behind. The first thing the policeman becomes aware of is the dog inside, howling as if being tortured. Something is very wrong, very bad in there. He enters the foyer of the building, an office cheaply partitioned off from the long expanse of garage that runs perpendicular to Clark Street.
Loftus hesitantly steps forward and announces loudly that he is a police officer. The door closes. The frigid air is immediately sucked out and replaced by an overwhelmingly different atmosphere. Over the smell of concrete and gasoline is the odor of wet cloth, the pungent scent of cordite from ignited gunpowder, and something else that raises his hackles. Loftus carefully follows the sights of his Colt revolver through a partitioned hallway and into the garage. He takes a left at the end and slowly moves down an aisle braced with seven trucks and three automobiles.
Twenty feet inside, Loftus spots a man trying to crawl toward him, quickly recognizing him as gangster Frank Gusenberg, whose nickname is Hock. Gusenberg is dressed in a dark suit and overcoat and leaves a smeared, crimson trail in his wake.
Half blind and dying, Gusenberg recognizes the police officer and begs, "For heaven's sake, get me to a hospital!" The words and the broken voice that utter them send a solid chill up Loftus's neck and spine. He runs over to the pathetic form, almost slipping when his shoes pass through viscous, spattered blood and the hundred brass cartridges that are strewn everywhere. He commands Billy Rudd to go back outside and guard the door, his voice cracking as he yells, "Call an ambulance! Call Deputy Commissioner Wolfe and the bureau of investigation! Call the switchboard! Call everybody!"
Loftus kneels down next to Gusenberg. There are ragged bullet holes in the back of his coat, each oozing red. Placing his revolver on the concrete floor, he turns the man over as gently as possible. It's like squeezing a leaking paper bag.
Loftus looks at the fellow's thick neck and the spattered gore on his broad face. Gusenberg has been a familiar participant in Chicago crime for years, acting as a robber, gunman, and newspaper-union muscleman. Gusenberg and his crazy-eyed older brother Pete, nicknamed Goose, worked for Dean O'Banion's gang and are now associated with O'Banion's inheritor, North Side bootlegger George Moran, who uses the garage as a delivery depot.
Gusenberg has been shot so many times that his clothing is shredded. Blood spills from his shirt cuffs. He's taken bullets in the groin area, and his pants are glistening red. The dog maintains its tormented barking, getting louder as Loftus stands up and approaches. It is a maddening sound. As the whole panorama of the garage comes into focus, punctuated by the monstrous, unceasing noise of the crazed animal, Loftus gasps. He's seen his share of dead bodies in his thirty years as a Chicago cop, including many gunshot victims and dozens of stabbings. He's seen bloated corpses pulled out of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, but nothing he's ever imagined is as evil or grotesque as the sight before him.
To his right is a wall of bodies. Light wisps of steam or smoke—he can't tell which—rise from a half-dozen decimated human shells, all frozen in a tableau of sudden, violent death. They seem to float on rivulets of blood that run toward a central floor drain. Four of the dead lie together. Three of them are perpendicular to the brick wall on their backs, and one is on his stomach, jammed up against the wall at their feet. A fifth corpse lies at a forty-five-degree angle to their left, a light-colored fedora positioned strangely on his chest, as if someone gently placed it there. To his left a sixth lies near the corner of the room, slumped against a chair. Several of them have been shot in the head, and two lie in lumps of their own brains, their skulls burst open like gourds that have fallen from a height to reveal their pithy innards.
This isn't Custer's dead Seventh Cavalry or the Argonne of the Great War. This is a garage in the heart of Chicago, a great, modern city. Loftus feels his scalp burning as a numbing shock pushes his own blood down through his body, making him feel like he weighs a ton. Moreover, the shocks keep coming. Loftus leans down and hears Gusenberg moaning over the ceaseless railing of the dog, its echo pounding against the brick walls and concrete floor. It looks like some kind of shepherd; it is chained to the axle underneath a truck that is being repaired. The animal is running and lurching insanely into the air, then violently being pulled back when it reaches the end of the tether.
"Do you know me, Frank?" Loftus yells.
The man's eyes flutter open. Blood seeps from between his red, gritted teeth. Gusenberg's eyes attempt to focus on Loftus. He coughs, spattering Loftus's wool coat and chin with bright-red droplets.
"Yes, you are Tom Loftus," gargles Gusenberg.
"Frank! Who did this? What happened?"
It is a question that will be asked by millions of people for a very long time.
Gusenberg groans, which turns into a gargling sound in his throat. "Won' talk."
There are police gongs ringing nearby, outside on Clark Street. There are the faint sounds of more people out on the sidewalk. Gusenberg moans and coughs, his body shaking. Loftus sees life slipping away. How can a person this decimated still be alive? He grips the man's coat, feeling his hands fill with blood, which has already saturated the wool like a sponge.
"You're in bad shape."
Gusenberg groans and closes his eyes. "For God's sake, ge' me to hosh-pital!"
Loftus tries again. "Who did the shooting?"
"I refuse to talk," manages Gusenberg.
Loftus shakes his head. These tough guys are all the same, all hard cases with a stupid code of silence. The dog continues to howl. Its intensity is the same, but its bark grows raspy as it chokes itself again and again on the chain. Loftus must feel like everything is unreal, as if he is watching himself from above, holding the dying Gusenberg.
"The wagon is coming, Frank. Is your brother here, too?"
Gusenberg tries to focus on the policeman. His eyes are black, like a dead dog's. "Yes," he gulps. Frothy blood bubbles across his rapidly bluing lips.
"Were you all lined up against the wall?"
Gusenberg's eyes are rolling up into his head. "Won' talk," he repeats.
The two lagging officers, Tom Christy and George Love, arrive along with the ambulance driver and attendant. Loftus orders them to hurry Gusenberg over to Alexian Brothers Hospital, which is the closest. As they load Gusenberg onto a gurney, Loftus spots Gusenberg's brother Pete, who is slumped in the chair in the far corner. He walks over and sees that Pete is gone. Loftus doesn't recognize any of the other victims. It occurs to him that someone else might be alive, although he doubts it. He yells after the medics to get a doctor. A few minutes later, a neighborhood doctor who has been summoned from his nearby office on North Clark arrives and quickly examines the other men. "Jesus," he whispers as he goes from one bloody body to another. They are all dead.
Soon, from behind Loftus, through the cheap foyer of the SMC Cartage Company, from the frozen streets, come those who will report this to the rest of the world. It is the most shocking abomination of a still-young twentieth century, a virtual criminal earthquake that will vibrate around the world and define Chicago in popular culture. They all ask the same question: Who did this?
Excerpted from DEADLY VALENTINES by JEFFREY GUSFIELD Copyright © 2012 by Jeffrey Gusfield. Excerpted by permission of CHICAGO REVIEW PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Author's Note xix
The Capone Outfit, 1928 xxi
Prologue: Call Everybody! Valentine's Day, 1929 3
Part I Arrival
1 I Came to America to Give a Better Future to My Children, 1906 11
2 Sicily in Brooklyn, 1907 16
3 He's Capable of Learning Many Things, 1911-1917 22
4 She Who Is Born Beautiful Is Born Married, 1918 28
5 Boxing, 1921 36
6 If You Don't Do What I Want, I Won't Be Happy, 1921 44
7 Everyone Wants to Earn More Money, 1922 49
Part II Scorpion
8 Terrible Misfortune, 1923 57
9 We Remain Tormented in This Land, 1923 62
10 I've Been Living in This City for Three Years, 1923 68
11 This Man Knows Precisely What He Wants to Do, 1924 72
12 Dean Is More Clever than Intelligent, 1924 77
13 You Don't Have to Say Anything, 1925 83
14 I'd Like to Buy a Hat, 1926 92
15 The More One Works, the More One Earns, 1926 100
16 I'm Not Afraid of His Words, I'm Afraid of What He Can Do, 1926 109
17 Aren't You Ashamed of What You Did? 1927 116
18 Sometimes Cat and Mouse Dance Together, 1927 125
19 We'll Come Back Later, 1928 133
20 Do You Know Who I Am? 1928 142
21 When Love Knocks, Be Sure to Answer, 1928 149
Part III Massacre
22 Who Looks for a Quarrel Finds a Quarrel, 1929 161
23 The Wicked Man, 1929 172
24 This Doesn't Suffice to Remove All Suspicions, 1929 181
25 Mind Test, 1929 190
26 See You Soon! 1930 196
27 I'd Send You to Jail, 1930 203
28 Nothing Lasts Forever, 1931 210
29 The Bad Intention, 1932 219
30 A Great Victory, 1932 225
31 I Am Innocent! 1933 235
32 Only You Were Singing in the Silence, 1933 245
33 I Don't See Anyone, Anywhere, 1934 252
34 February May Be Short, but It's the Worst Month, 1935-1936 256
35 Why? 1936 271
36 Whoever Desires Too Much Ends Up with Nothing, 1936 278
37 I Feared He'd Come Back and Kill Me, 1936 283
38 Lulu Lou: What I Want, You Don't Have, 1936-1995 290
Posted March 10, 2013
Posted February 4, 2013